I grew up in the town I was born in. I know the city like a song stuck in my head, all familiar and memorized. It’s repetitive every day: the same buildings, smells, sounds, people. It’s reassuring and comfortable, but I always wanted more, just unsure how to take the first step.
I knew I always wanted to leave, to experience the world beyond the place I had always called home. No matter how much you crave it though, there’s still that fear deep inside that you have to fight through. It’s scary to leave everything you’ve ever known for the unknown where anything could happen.
People always say how traveling is one of the most instantly rewarding experiences, but I didn’t fully understand that until I finally decided to go across the ocean for the first time.
Here are a few things I learned leaving home for the first time to study abroad:
You are way more independent than you think.
I liked to think of myself as independent. I was responsible, could take care of myself, and was always able to get done what I needed to without trouble. However, it wasn’t until I left home that I really discovered how independent and resilient I can really be.
I’ve had to navigate unfamiliar airports, streets, and tram-lines by myself. I’ve had to ask for help in a language that I had hardly spoken outside of a classroom. I’ve had to do so many things that have pushed me more and more outside of my comfort zone, and I’m so grateful for it.
People are always people.
It’s important to understand cultural differences when you plan to travel. But sometimes I think we can get too caught up in the differences that we forget the ways in which people are really just people at heart, no matter where they’re from. We all make mistakes, but we all enjoy a sunny day and a smile.
I’ve learned it’s best to treat everyone with respect no matter where I am. I try not to get too overwhelmed with the different customs that I forget that people aren’t that different from me.
The world is much smaller than it seems.
It doesn’t matter how much you desperately want to travel, it’s always a scary thing to leave your home for the first time. Your stomach gets knotted up with eagerness, excitement, fear, and “what ifs.” But wherever you go, the world is a lot smaller than you might think.
Pieces of home, be it an American song on the radio, a McDonald’s down the street, or something as small as your favorite flower blooming in a park, will follow you where you go. These things will be a comfort when you get homesick, but they also serve to show that the world is not as much of a big, scary, foreign place as you might have thought.
If you’re leaving home for the first time, like I did, or if you need that extra push to finally get out your front door, these are only a few of the rewarding things I have gained from my study abroad experience. I can’t wait to continue to travel and learn even more about myself and the world around me, and I hope you’ll do the same.